NYC Council’s Foam Decision is Anti-Small Business

On May 12, following a New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) report, the New York City Council is instituting a citywide ban on single-use expanded polystyrene (EPS) containers, rather than offering residents a way to recycle the product. This ban would first go into effect on November 13, 2017, and applies to restaurants, food trucks, and other small businesses that use this dependable foodservice product.

EPS—often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam, a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Company—is used to make cups, plates, lids, takeout containers, and other common foodservice items. When properly recycled, manufacturers reuse polystyrene foam to make products like picture frames, garden nursery trays, crown molding, and rulers. More importantly, recycling foam means less foam is littered or disposed of improperly.

DSNY’s ban is nothing new. They attempted to ban the product in 2013, but the ban was struck down by a 2015 New York Supreme Court ruling. Now, the ban is back after DSNY concluded that recycling foam would not be economically feasible for the City.

In reality, banning the product is not economically feasible for restaurant and small business owners. Many restaurants, food trucks, street vendors, schools, hospitals, and small businesses prefer to use polystyrene foam products because they are more durable and cost less than alternatives. Switching to more expensive products would force these businesses to either increase prices, or eat the sunken costs.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera sees first-hand how this ban would affect small business owners. “Clamshell containers and cups are a staple in ethnic restaurants in my community,” Cabrera said on Friday, prior to the ruling. “We hear from minority business owners all the time about increasing costs for them to do business here.”

Cabrera intends to fight the ban, and recently introduced a progressive bill that would designate expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) as recyclable. This would allow city residents to put EPS in their curbside recycling bins, along with paper, plastics, and other recyclables. Unlike a ban, this bill offers the City both environmental and economic benefits.

“A program to recycle 100% of polystyrene foam is good for the environment, good for consumers and good for the City,” said Cabrera. “It would help reduce greenhouse gases, avoid landfill costs and generate much-needed revenue for the City.”

If New York City keeps this ban in place, sadly it will be restaurants and small business owners who feel the harshest effects of losing this familiar and dependable product.

Foam Bans